Maintaining a healthy lifestyle from day to day and year after year can be a daunting task. Then, if you are injured and unable to exercise for a period of time, getting back to the routine can be even harder. Imagine this scenario: You decided to join the military so that you could serve your country, or follow the family tradition, or perhaps you were just looking for the opportunity to learn a good skill and get financial support for a college degree. While on active duty you sustain a severe injury, taking you out of combat. You are forced to return home as an injured serviceman or woman to recover. Recovery is intense, long and life-changing. Some injuries are non-physical such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), others can result in the loss of limbs. The medical management of injured veterans has improved a great deal over the years however, new organizations have been formed to fill the gap. Since the inception of the Team Semper Fi fund in May 2004, they have raised $195 million dollars in assistance to more than 22,000 service members and their families.
My passion has always centered on helping others and staying physically active. I graduated in 1979 from a high school in Phoenix, Arizona. Enlisting in one of the Armed Services wasn’t even a thought for anyone in my class of almost eight hundred seniors. Each November during the pre and post Veterans Day celebrations, I often felt guilty for my lack of service. As the years went on and I progressed in my professional career I met more vets, and since I hadn’t served I really couldn’t relate to their lives as enlisted persons. Then this past autumn, I got a call from Debbie Sanchez (wife of Ron Sanchez, Organizer of the TDS Enduro Mountain bike race). She and Dr. Jon Pritchett asked me if I would be interested in working with the medical team of Bouchier and Pritchett Family Medicine as well as a group of local medical doctors who are avid mountain bike riders such as Jed Colvin, Dr. Dan Goldsmith, Dr. Rob Bixler, Dr. Richard Goddard and office assistants Jessica Sears and Sarah Rhode of Dr. Pritchett’s office. With no hesitation I said, "yes." Little did I know what an inspiration the experience would be.
Two full days of mountain biking down highly technical trails on the Sanchez property created some interesting injuries all of us on the medical team treated. The wound care specialists, doctor Goldsmith and doctor Goddard stitched up several gashes in legs, even a Team Semper Fi athletes’ leg. There was lots of road rash. I taped up a lot of wrist and ankle joints and was able to perform several spinal joint manipulations for three athletes. That was a key piece of treatment that kept them in the competition. I was surrounded by competitive athletes, doing what I love to do professionally and athletically. My passion was being fed.
The Team Semper Fi athletes totaled over twenty athletes who were competing as part of their “Recovery Through Sport” program. This was an advanced mountain bike camp for these athletes. A feeling of success occurred each time an athlete left the medical tent and sprinted out of the starting gate for his or her run. Six timed runs each day for two days had these athletes sprinting down technical trails trying to shave seconds off each turn, jump and flat pedal sections. For the top pro riders making the podium, the time gaps from first to third place were less than a minute for over thirty-eight minutes of racing in twelve stages. Two Semper Fi athletes raced all twelve stages in a stacked pro field.
Three Semper Fi athletes with significant enough lower extremity disabilities that don’t allow them to ride a mountain bike rode their handcycles competed in four stages that were wide enough to accommodate their wide mountain bikes. No fear with these guys. The energy and noise of the crowd when a Team Semper Fi athlete came flying down the trail tucked down low to be as aerodynamic as possible, hitting the banked turns and kicking up clouds of dust was magic. Emotions were visible on the spectators' faces. Many with tears in their eyes.
After two full days of racing and the crowds gone, Team Semper Fi had the Sanchez property to themselves for an additional two days of clinic time with us mountain bike riding volunteers. These athletes were geared up and ready to learn new skills to become better mountain bike riders. I volunteered for these duties because it was so aligned with my two passions of working as a PT and teaching a group of men whom I could connect with on an athletic level. I paired up with five vets and coached them on how to handle their bikes on the intermediate trails. The highly skilled riders in Jed Colvin, Jon Pritchett, Dan Goldsmith, Rob Bixler, and Richard Goddard, Casey Sanchez and several other volunteers took the vets, who were skilled mountain bikers on the more challenging trails. There were further injuries, some additional road rash, a few mechanical issues, and even a few bruised egos, but there was no shortage of smiles and laughter. Everyone was having a great time. These vets are all winners for pushing the envelope to stay fit and live a healthy lifestyle.
The inspiration of these injured vets working so hard to achieve success in a skill they didn’t have prior to their injury was impressive. As the camp was ending, one of the vets thanked me for taking the time to help out. I acknowledged his gratitude and told him that he and his team members did more for me in the past few days than anything else I could have done to stay healthy, train regularly and maintain a life of well-being. I realized how feeding my passions of helping people achieve improved function and staying fit is a simple recipe to keep me motivated. I can't wait until next year. I can hear the crowds lining “the wall run” chanting, “USA”. It's already penciled in for April 2020.